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DeLay Warns Senate on Censure

Tom DeLay House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas. (The Post)

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  • By Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 24, 1998; Page A1

    House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Tex) continued yesterday to press for President Clinton's removal from office, warning senators against agreeing to a censure deal before fully examining the "overwhelming evidence against the president."

    Delay's admonition came as bipartisan interest appeared to be increasing in a compromise that would avoid a Senate trial.

    This week, five moderate House Republicans -- all of whom voted for impeachment -- called on the Senate to consider stopping short of removing Clinton from office. A number of Democratic and GOP senators have been talking publicly and privately about coming up with some sort of censure option.

    During last week's House debate on impeachment, DeLay, one of Clinton's fiercest critics, opposed allowing members to vote on censure as an alternative, and he insisted in yesterday's statement that the White House and the news media are underestimating the chances of convicting Clinton in a Senate trial. Conviction requires the votes of 67 senators.

    "The reason the House adopted articles of impeachment was due to the overwhelming evidence against the president," DeLay said. "Before people look to cut a deal with the White House or their surrogates who will seek to influence the process, it is my hope that one would spend plenty of time in the evidence room. If this were to happen, you may realize that 67 votes may appear out of thin air. If you don't, you may wish you had before rushing to judgment."

    DeLay did not mention the moderate Republicans' efforts, instead emphasizing that "without any review of the evidence it is premature to be talking about a deal or short-circuiting the process. There are reams of evidence that have not been publicly aired and are only available to members."

    According to aides, Delay was referring to documents, including unsubstantiated allegations against the president, provided by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr but not released by the House. They remain in the Gerald R. Ford House Office Building.

    The White House denounced DeLay's tactics: "Having put 'The Hammer' to his colleagues . . .," spokesman James Kennedy said, using the majority whip's nickname, "we believe senators will reject the politics of personal destruction."

    Meanwhile, Vice President Gore said in an interview to be aired Sunday on CNN that the White House will not put pressure on senators to support censure. "You will not see a lobbying campaign where the president and I are buttonholing senators. That's not something that feels like it is appropriate in this situation," he said.

    Gore also said Clinton was unlikely to admit to lying under oath as part of any deal. "The president has said he did not lie under oath. He has acknowledged that he gave statements that were less than helpful to his interrogators and he said that was misleading. But that is a very different proposition," Gore said.

    Virtually every censure compromise that has been floated, including a proposal this week by former presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, calls on Clinton to admit he lied under oath about the Monica S. Lewinsky matter.

    Four GOP lawmakers who voted for impeachment -- Reps. Sherwood L. Boehlert (N.Y.), Michael N. Castle (Del.), Benjamin A. Gilman (N.Y.) and James C. Greenwood (Pa.) -- issued a letter Monday asking Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to "consider strong censure as a remedy" for Clinton's actions. On Tuesday Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.) joined their ranks, arguing that Clinton could receive censure as long as he admits he broke the law.

    "We didn't want our votes on impeachment to make people think that removal should be the only option," Boehlert said in an interview yesterday, adding that Clinton could still be punished without being convicted by the Senate. "The solution has to be somewhere in the middle."

    Greenwood, who said he did not believe the Senate would convict Clinton, said the public would be better served by Clinton signing an admission of wrongdoing passed by both chambers than enduring a trial that ended in his acquittal. "That gives you a bipartisan resolution, it gives everyone a sense that justice has been done, and the country begins to heal," he said.

    Boehlert said that the moderates were not planning to actively lobby senators. "It's not for us to make any deals," Boehlert said. "That's up to the Senate."

    Yet, the moderates' position has raised questions about why these Republicans would vote for impeachment if they opposed removing the president.

    "The impeachment process as set out in the Constitution is not set out to be a punishment," said Brookings Institution senior fellow Stephen Hess. "To use it as a punishment, to me, is really to trivialize the Constitution."

    Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Judiciary Committee member, argued that moderate Republicans were "trying to have it both ways."

    "If they really believed censure was appropriate, they should have voted with us, the Democrats, to allow a censure vote on the floor," he added.

    The two parties sparred over the sealed evidence against Clinton late last week. In the days leading up to the vote Judiciary Committee member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) urged his colleagues to read FBI documents relating to a witness in the Paula Jones lawsuit, identified only as Jane Doe No. 5. Starr said in his narrative history of the Jones case that on Jan. 2, 1998 "Jane Doe No. 5 signed an affidavit in which she denied that the president made unwelcome sexual advances to me in the late '70s." But in parentheses, Starr noted without further explanation: "(On April 8, 1998, however, Jane Doe No. 5 stated to the OIC [Office of Independent Counsel] investigators that this affidavit was false.)" Investigators did not indicate in what way her affidavit was false, and sources indicated she did not allege in any of the documents that Clinton had made any improper advances to her.

    According to sources, FBI investigators who conducted the interview characterized it in their report as "inconclusive." Although footnoted in Starr's report, that document was among those the Judiciary Committee decided not to release when it made the Starr documents public in September. Under House rules, it is available only to House members. The Judiciary Committee would have to vote to release the material to senators, committee aides said, and there are no plans for such a vote.

    DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon said the GOP House leader was encouraging senators to review all the evidence the committee has amassed. "While the White House is out there maintaining that we're holding up some secret evidence as a reason to move forward, the truth of the matter is we're talking about evidence that has been discussed and evidence that hasn't been discussed together," he said. "We didn't just make up this impeachment. There is . . . evidence that crimes were committed and our statement today was simply meant to point out that fact."

    Greenwood said that it was "a good idea" for DeLay to keep up the pressure on Clinton, because that could ultimately lead to a strong censure. "One reason the president may decide for censure instead of a trial might be because there's material in the Ford Building he doesn't necessarily want everyone to be aware of," Greenwood said, though he added, "I still don't think there's material in there for 67 votes."

    But Castle, who has reviewed the sealed evidence and had proposed the White House pay $2 million as part of a censure deal, said lawmakers should be "very careful" about referring to allegations that are not part of the impeachment charges against Clinton. "If there's anything there that's not going to be part of the case in the Senate, in my judgment, it should not be considered," he said.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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